I’ve been thinking a lot about Psalm 133 as my residency at First Presbyterian winds to a close. “Behold how good and pleasant it is for kindred to dwell together in unity,” the Psalm begins.
Today I am thinking about the good and pleasant times that I’ve had during my residency. I am thinking about those times when I saw the family of First Presbyterian dwell together in unity. And I am wondering, too, if such unity can last.
Moments of warmth and joy
Of course, a highlight of my time has been working with the young adults of FPC. I’m thinking of devotions at Cheesecakes by Alex, of happy hours and deep conversations in the family homes of the Martins and the Willises and the Witherspoons. I’m thinking of cookouts, and communion on the top of Hanging Rock, and meetups at Joymongers and the Green Bean.
First Presbyterian is blessed to have a wonderful contingent of young adults — some heavily involved, some skirting around the edges, some lifelong members, and some just passing through. My time getting to know these folks has been a blessing. We have had times of laughter and vulnerability, of sharing our faith and growing together.
We have had times of unity as the body of Christ.
There are other moments that stand out as good and pleasant. Moments of unity. I think of our somewhat fledgling but wonderful group that constitutes the Ale-leluia faithful. Some of my favorite moments at FPC have been discussing theology and current events while sipping on a pint. This group has provided a space for me to learn from our members. Whether hashing out issues on immigration, or the climate crisis, or the generational divide of the “OK, Boomer” era, I always walked away refreshed by good conversation.
“Behold how good,” indeed.
There are other instances, too, which can only be described as deeply pleasant. There are the moments of shaking hands after a Rejoice service or chitchatting on the steps leading to the sanctuary, of catching up for a moment in the Welcome Center over biscuits and coffee, or of joining one of the Presbyterian Women’s circles that have been meeting faithfully for years. Such times remind me of what the church can be.
Moments of fragment
We are now in a moment where what church is and can be is strained.
How can we dwell together in unity while keeping our distance due to a pandemic? That doesn’t feel good or pleasant at all, but endangering our congregation feels far worse.
We are in a moment, too, where the ties that bind seem to be fraying — not just in our church, but in our society writ large.
What does it mean to dwell together in unity in such times — times when black men are killed without repercussion, unless the episode is caught on camera? How can we be unified in times when our city streets are on fire? How can we find unity when so many seem to deny the dangers of COVID or racism’s power in the first place? Is such a unity even faithful?
Essentials beyond opinion
The early church fathers said something along the lines of, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” We would do well to heed their teaching.
Make no mistake: There are essentials to the Christian faith that cannot be reduced to a difference of opinion.
Christ’s call to care for the sick and oppressed and vulnerable are simply non-negotiable. Justice is non-negotiable. We must be unified on this front. And we must be willing to part ways with those who cannot agree on these non-negotiables. “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left,” lest we forget. “On this very night” our souls may be asked of us. We cannot compromise here.
Debating the how
But how do we tackle these essentials together? How then shall we live in this moment? Here we can have various understandings and opinions. Here we can hash it out and learn from each other. Here we can debate and push and strive for better understanding and action. We can have liberty in opinion on methods and means.
We can push each other to be better, here. How can First Presbyterian best care for the sick and oppressed and vulnerable?
All by our love
And, finally, “in all things charity.” If there comes a time where we must part ways with society around us, or even if there comes a time when we must part company with those we hold most dear, yes — even in times of our greatest and most painful disagreements — let us go about such actions with caritas — with love.
“They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Christ models that even those who he opposed, he never stopped loving. Even those who hung Him on a cross He forgave. May we find the courage and creativity to love as we are commanded.
We are not a people without hope. There are days ahead when we will behold how good and pleasant it is for us to dwell together in unity. May we work together for such days.